U.S. Briefs: Alabama shoppers get a tax break
State sales tax on food reduced by 1 percent on Sept. 1
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Shoppers are paying slightly less at the grocery store after a 1 percent reduction in the state sales tax on food took effect Sept. 1. Gov. Kay Ivey signed the new tax structure into law in June, removing Alabama from a list of only three states that taxed groceries at the same rate as other purchases. The legislation also includes an additional 1 percent drop next year, but that cut will depend on whether the state’s Education Trust Fund has grown by the needed replacement rate. According to advocacy group Alabama Arise, the change could keep an extra $150 a year in the pockets of a family of four. The new law defines “food” like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) does—almost all items found in grocery aisles, minus prepared foods and alcoholic beverages. The rollout wasn’t without its problems. Walmart customers on Sept. 1 noticed they were charged both the old and new tax rates, an issue since resolved. —Kim Henderson
In an Aug. 30 ruling, the St. Louis–based 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined to revisit a three-judge panel ruling that upheld a federal lifetime ban on felons owning guns. In a dissenting opinion joined by three other judges, Circuit Judge David Stras said the decision’s effect was to “create a group of second-class citizens: felons who, for the rest of their lives, cannot touch a firearm, no matter the crime they committed or how long ago it happened.” The 8th Circuit ruling conflicts with a June 6 ruling by the Philadelphia-based 3rd Circuit that concluded the government cannot ban people convicted of nonviolent crimes from possessing guns. That disagreement sets the stage for a Supreme Court review. —Steve West
The state corrections department faces a federal lawsuit over an April law that bans paying for sex reassignment surgeries for prison inmates. The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana challenged the law on Aug. 28, claiming it violates prisoners’ Eighth and 14th Amendment rights. Federal law requires prisons to provide medically necessary care, but there is no legal consensus on whether “gender-affirming” treatments count. Policies vary between states. Indiana has never funded gender-transition surgery for inmates, and only a handful of inmates across the country have ever won access to such surgeries. But one Indiana inmate did recently win a court order authorizing an operation. Another plaintiff was denied under the new law. —Grace Snell
The hunt is on to properly dispose of more than 150 animals once displayed at the Delbridge Museum of Natural History in Sioux Falls. The museum closed Aug. 17 after 40 years in operation. Recent tests showed almost 80 percent of the animals in one of the largest collections in the Midwest showed trace levels of arsenic used to preserve hides prior to the 1980s. Residents lamented closure of the exhibit and asked elected leaders to prevent disposal of the city-owned collection. The Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections joined the fray, noting that while toxins are common in older displays worldwide, barriers and cleaning protocols keep visitors and staff safe. The museum director, mayor, and city attorney said Aug. 29 that repairing and encasing the aging collection is not practical and they can’t transfer a known carcinogen to another organization. The city is replacing the museum with a butterfly house and aquarium. —Todd Vician
Healthcare facilities will be allowed to return amputated body parts to patients starting Sept. 24 when a new law takes effect. SB 189, spearheaded by the St. Charles Health System and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, changes previous state law that allowed only cremated body parts to be returned to patients. Soon, amputees will be able to reclaim their body parts intact, for cultural or spiritual reasons. Wilson Wewa, a spiritual leader for the Warm Springs tribes, said their traditions teach that a person’s body must be kept together so the spirit can pass into the next world at death. Some tribe members don’t believe cremated body parts count. “It has led to, unfortunately, the death of some of our people because they’ve chosen not to get an amputation,” he told the Associated Press. The St. Charles Health System interviewed over 80 tribe members before lobbying for the change. —Elizabeth Russell
Baltimore County Public Schools is adding gun-detection software to all its security cameras. Superintendent Myriam Yarbrough said during an Aug. 23 news conference that the system “helps us to provide emergency response right away.” The gun-detection software, developed by Virginia-based security company Omnilert, integrates with existing security cameras and monitors footage 24/7. If it detects a gun, it sends an alert to trained Omnilert staff. They verify if the threat is real and notify police. Gun-detection software is growing in popularity in school systems across America: Charles County Public Schools in Maryland announced a collaboration with Omnilert earlier this year. Baltimore’s schools have about 7,000 security cameras, making it one of the largest installations of such software in the country. High-risk schools will get priority, but the system will eventually be added to all schools. Baltimore County’s Board of Education approved a $1.4 million, two-year contract with Omnilert. —Emma Freire
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